Weekend burglary exposes understaffing at sheriff's office

By: Kate Tillotson Email
By: Kate Tillotson Email

News 12 First at Five, Wednesday, June 27, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- $14,000 in property was stolen this weekend, and the victims say police took too long to respond. But the sheriff's office says it's stretched thin, especially on weekends.

"Our house got robbed," mutters burglary victim Nichole Pope.

She sorts through the few items thieves left at her home Saturday: an empty television box and empty jewelry boxes.

She can't sleep.

"I stayed up practically all night thinking that somebody else could come in my house and finish what they started," she says.

Pope says she called 911 immediately. A road deputy responded but it took an investigator two whole days to process the scene.

"I expected a lot more," she says.

She and her husband worry evidence may have been lost.

"I'm relying on the police. I mean, I can't do it by myself. I've got to trust them, you know? They're the people that I tell my children to look up to," Pope says.

News 12 visited Lieutenant Tony Walden who supervises the Property Crime Unit in Richmond County. We asked, "Why weren't fingerprints and photographs taken immediately?"

"These guys work 24 hours a day," he says. "They don't have very much down time."

Walden blames understaffing on weekends. Burglaries are handled by violent crimes which also handles everything else.

"We can't leave an armed robbery to go work a residential burglary case with nobody in custody," Walden says. "So what we have to do is prioritize our work."

Meanwhile the Popes try to piece the crime together; from the burglars' escape to potential evidence in their yard. They've cooperated with police, but they don't want to wait any longer.

"It's hard to live in a house for two days after that and tell your kids not to touch nothing," says Pope.

To help combat the shortage, Lieutenant Walden gave three of his investigators to the Violent Crimes unit. In return, Violent Crimes handles everything on weekends.

Currently, Property Crimes has ten investigators: three are in auto theft, one works pawn shops and scrap yards, one works as a victim liaison and five work the streets.

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  • by Jack Reacher Location: Augusta on Jun 29, 2007 at 08:18 AM
    Staffing at the Sheriff's Office is only going to get worse. The news is gradually filtering out that the county is not matching the retirement contributions of vested employees. Experienced Deputies and Investigators are leaving in droves to go to other agencies with better benefits. When you start to lose your core of veteran officers, you are left with newer less-experienced personnel.
  • by Terry Location: homemaker on Jun 28, 2007 at 05:02 PM
    The "rich and famous" are definitely not exempt from being victims of crime. I don't know exactly how "rich and famous" Senior Judge Mulherin is, but he's close enough to be newsworthy: his house just got broken into. I hope he pulls out all the stops to bring the culprit/s to justice. An police officer moved into my old neighborhood awhile back and didn't have any problems until he brought his patrol car home one night. That night it was keyed. He moved elsewhere. We are ALL in jeopardy as long as there is this shortage on the police force coupled with the societal pressures in this county. We need to address this problem from every angle in right ways. How?
  • by Terry Location: homemaker on Jun 28, 2007 at 03:11 PM
    This doesn't expose understaffing at Sheriff's office. The criminals already have known the department is understaffed for a long time and use it to their advantage. Therefore, unfortunately, so do the repeat victims. I wish I could tell you the trauma local criminals have put my family through since the first incident in 1988 and those that followed until the present. I thoroughly understand how the Popes feel and I thoroughly understand how the good people in law enforcement feel, too. How can we fix this problem?
  • by Diane Location: Augusta on Jun 28, 2007 at 07:03 AM
    Unfortunately we will not see any additional law enforcement until one of the "rich & famous" are the victim. I agree we need additional officers and I would be willing to pay for that protection.
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